Meeting The Real-Life Bunk Left A Terrifying Impression On The Wire's Wendell Pierce

HBO's "The Wire" recalibrated the way audiences engaged with TV drama, not just through its sly sociopolitical commentary dressed up as cop procedural, but in the ways that its characters amplified its themes. One of the stauncher characters on the cop side was Det. William "Bunk" Moreland, played by Wendell Pierce. As complex as any other player on the chessboard but just as singular, Bunk was as dedicated to the bottle as he was to his work.

Pierce told journalist Jonathan Abrams how he came to see origins of his character, who was based on Baltimore Police Department Det. Oscar "Rick" Requer, in the flesh during a shoot with Dominic West (who played Det. McNulty) during a scene like any other in the series, wherein a dead body acts as a scrawling statement on what Alan Sepinwall calls "the rotting state of the American city — and by extension, the broken condition of America itself." It was a season 1 episode surrounding the shooting death of maintenance man — and state witness — William Gant (Larry Hull). Pierce elaborated to Abrams:

"[Requer] pulled up in a Cadillac with his cigar going. I guess he was about 50 feet away and when he got out the car, looked across the street at me with squinted eyes, cocked his head to the side in disbelief in one look, almost as if to say, 'What the hell are you doing?' And got back in the car and drove off. I was terrified from that day forward and for five years, did not speak to the man. We'd pass messages here and there. 'How's it going?' 'Fine.' That's it. But I was terrified to get his opinion."

Later on, the opportunity arose for Pierce to meet his character's progenitor in person, and he couldn't pass it up.

Bunk, you made me famous.

Despite the distant introductions, Wendell Pierce and his character's real-life counterpart, Oscar "Rick" Requer, eventually got on like peas and carrots. Requer had joined the Baltimore Police Department on patrol in 1964, eventually joining the Criminal Investigation Division and being featured alongside his unit in the demystifying 1991 book "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets," written by "The Wire" creator David Simon. The "Treme" actor learned of the real Bunk's upcoming retirement from the BPD, and he knew he had to be present. Pierce told Jonathan Abrams:

"I got all the information. I summoned all the courage I could summon to face my criticism, which I expected, and walked into the hall. There he was, 50 feet again away from me, squinting, looking at me, cocked head to the side. I walk up to him and he said, 'Bunk, you made me famous.' He burst out in a huge smile and laughing and greeted me as if I was the prodigal son going home. They immediately put me on the program. I had to give a speech at his retirement party and all. And since then, we've been more in touch now after 'The Wire' than before."

The same oral history makes it clear it wasn't Simon's aim to have the actors meet the men and women who inspired the roles they play. The showrunner felt that, "unless you're doing historical drama," it's best to let the actor stay sturdy in the character written for them, which can and does differ from the real deal. Watching Bunk's symphonic usage of profanity, that approach probably worked out for the best.